Thursday, July 16, 2009

Teen Scream

Teen comedies have changed over the last 10 to 20 years because teens have changed.

Of course. The audience is what dictates what's produced, because if a movie shows in an empty theatre, does it make any noise?

Around the '70s and '80s there was a rash of films about teenagers spying on other teenagers. "Private School," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "H.O.T.S," and of course "Porky's" all depend upon sometimes complicated setups in which teenagers attempt to steal glimpses of the opposite sex undressed in semi-private situations (and often end up naked themselves).

At the movies were the only place you could see what a naked person looked like (besides from fine art books) and drive-ins became the preferred and privileged site of such voyeuristic pleasure by teens. Often for more than just what was on the screen.

In burgeoning age of cable and video, it became easier to experience what was forbidden and withheld. Teen comedies continued to be produced, but they were increasingly out of touch with how teenagers acted and what they wanted - they shifted from a life-style accoutrement to the exploitation they frankly were. I seem to remember some Brendan Fraser films in there somewhere, and the ubiquity of video didn't do teenagers any favors. The increasingly parent-safe "10 Things I Hate About You," "She's All That" or "Clueless" are all based on classics - yet they still feel like your pocket's being picked by 50-year-old men in shark-skin suits.

The "American Pie" movies returned to the earthier trends of the '70s with a knowing, post-modern tone and less desperation in the need to see skin. They simultaneously went farther sexually and embraced a Farrelly Brothers sweetness (which continues through the Apatow comedies) that makes them both controversial and conservative. Now that anyone can see anything online, teen films are no longer merely about the struggle to catch glimpses of naked people, let alone to get laid. Now they strive to make it mean something more than the smarmy sniggling innocence of "Porky's" would have you believe.

The teen films of the '80s are hopelessly dated now, but capture a specific time in everyone's development when being alone with your lust and fantasies was allowed and comodified.

Teens may have not changed so much but their modes of finding out about the opposite sex have. With the Internet and 100 channels on cable, the sense of discovery is no longer in a car, in the back seat, at the drive-in. In front of a glowing screen revealing secrets.

The emotional attachments, the physical and psychological changes we felt while viewing forbidden images (it's something out of "A Clockwork Orange") aren't there for a new generation.

Teen comedies (and sex comedies in general) are carriers of a different kind of information. They're too damn responsible. They're too damn polite.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dark Archives

In film archiving programs much like the one I am in, what you end up learning is a lot more about library studies than actual preservation of film.

What's important now is not trying to find an extant copy of an old lost classic. Let's presume that most of the films that can be found have been... or are deteriorated to the point of past saving. Now "archiving" is figuring out how to present what's still around to future generations, and future generations aren't interested in going to museums.

What archiving means now is to learn how physical document-style record-keeping archives keep track of their stuff. It means cataloging, and creating metadata for the Internet.

Describing moving images with words is a challenge that has yet to be conquered. As machines and software get better at "identifying" what a film clip or series of shots is about, the more a human with some kind of cultural sense and taste needs to intervene and perform triage on the alphabet soup that's created. You can't describe the elegance of a match cut in Renoir with even two stills together on a webpage.

You can't capture the flicker in Marlene Dietrich's eyes. Or the swagger in Asia Argento's poise.

Yet everything is being streamed to us anyway, on the Internet in any form they can deliver it to us. We no longer can be concerned with the best possible copies. Now we are beholden to creating the fastest-deliverable ones. There are over 4000 35mm prints of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in existence. In 6 months when it hits DVD, over 3800 of them will have been purposely destroyed to prevent piracy (although it's already on the Internet in digital form). And by the time of the third Transformers film there may be no film prints at all - it will be delivered digitally to your local exhibition spaces.

Newsweek (or was it Film Comment?) was right: Film is dead. They merely announced it a couple of decades too early. Sure, the old classics (and not-so-classics) on film are still being saved, on negative if they still exist, forgotten in dark archives. The temperature is lowered and the lights are dimmed so no more damage is done, for that moment some time in the future when people care about film again and want to see actual light shone through actual chemicals on celluloid and reflected off a silver screen, rather than transmitted with the electronic glow of digital perfection.

The archives are quiet. Companies are releasing the same hits over and over again in newer formats rather than exploring deep into the canon. The industry is trying to shake as much money as possible out of people, but it's hard when everyone is getting everything in a reduced resolution and in small pieces, often only temporarily - and for free.

No one's figured out what to do when people expect so much more for so much less. The old business model of selling atoms people keep is being challenged and undermined forever.

We're in a profound period of transition, psychologically, culturally, financially, and philosophically.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Has there ever been a film more review-proof than Transformers 2? The word is so uniformly and excoriatingly bad, not only from the egghead academic critics from such august publications as the New York Times and, but from our friends who saw it - to let us know it was so god-awful bad to try to, fruitlessly it turns out, warn us off.

That's a more immediate and direct kind of "word of mouth." From the very type of people who were predisposed to like it or were at least up for the dare and waited in lines (and there were long lines) on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd days and paid for the privilege of being simultaneously bludgeoned by the effects and sound while being insultingly starved by a paucity of content or intentional nuance.

$200 million worth of people saw Transformers 2 (and that's only domestically) and if the word of mouth really has serious effect and the grosses fall 75% each week for the next 4 weeks its sheer momentum will still ensure it will finish closer to $1 billion by August.

Is it worth all the money that was spent on and for it?

It's not high art (and I submit, it is art) but rather, an instance of performance. A triumph of marketing, branding, of sheer hype and push. No one wanted this film who hadn't dodged the 1st one, but its existence seems to assert itself - as a kind of fait accompli - as an event by its mere monumental presence. It's being sold not as a continuation - as a sequel or even a deeper exploration of plot points introduced and hinted at in the first. Shia and Megan aren't anywhere to be found in the materials.

Its about being in line, surrounded by a hundred other half-drunk fratboys, screaming and "ahh"ing, and covering your ears. The digital billboards on the day it opened didn't even insult us by listing the title, as some desperate hat-in-hand attempt to sell tickets.

They merely say "NOW." That muscular blue and orange image was enough.

We get it. This is happening. You in or out? Where's the line?